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Stanford football: Play of secondary a pleasant surprise

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Stanford Cardinal's Alijah Holder (13) celebrates his interception and touchdown with Stanford Cardinal's Ronnie Harris (21) and Stanford Cardinal's Quenton Meeks (24) during their game against the UCLA Bruins in the first quarter at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif, on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

By John Reid

Daily News Staff Writer

An inexperienced secondary was of the utmost concern for the Stanford football team entering the season. Eight games in, those concerns have fallen by the wayside.

Ninth-ranked Stanford is No. 2 in the Pac-12 in pass defense efficiency at 114.8. The Cardinal is sixth in the conference in pass defense, allowing 223.5 yards per game through the air, 18.1 yards behind No. 1 Washington State.

Stanford coach David Shaw, whose Cardinal plays at Colorado on Saturday, credits his unsung senior safeties - free safety Kodi Whitfield and strong safety Dallas Lloyd.

"Two guys who go underappreciated to a certain degree are our two safeties, " Shaw said. "Both guys are former offensive players. Both guys are fourth-year seniors. Both guys are unbelievably conscientious and want to do the right thing. They make all the calls and get everyone else lined up. You're able to play a sophomore corner and a true freshman at nickelback. The other guy who is underappreciated is Ronnie Harris."

Harris, a fifth-year senior cornerback, leads the Pac-12 with 1.3 pass breakups per game, a total of 10.

"It's a combination of all those things, " Shaw said. "Having those two senior safeties. Having a fifth-year corner who is playing his best football. Then a naturally gifted sophomore corner. Coach (Duane) Akina has gotten them ready to play. We don't run 15 coverages. We run a limited number and try to get really good at it."

A true freshman, Quenton Meeks, was the defensive hero of Stanford's 30-28 win at Washington State on Saturday. Meeks had two interceptions, the first two of his career. Meeks' first interception set up a 6-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kevin Hogan, giving the Cardinal a 27-22 lead early in the fourth quarter. Meeks' second pick was one where he read a screen pass, making a tremendous play, setting up the game-winning field goal by Conrad Ukropina with 1:54 to play.

"Ronnie Harris told me that screen was coming, " Meeks said. "The secondary watches a lot of film together. We saw in that particular formation they like to run the screen pass. I had a sense that it was coming, but Ronnie knew it was coming."

Meeks was rated a four-star recruit out of Del Norte High in San Diego. His father, Ron, played football at Arkansas State before coaching in the NFL from 1991 to 2012. Meeks was the defensive coordinator for Indianapolis when the Colts won Super Bowl XLI in February of 2007.

"The biggest thing my dad told me was to work hard, " Meeks said. "I wasn't going to accomplish anything just by being me or thinking I got it made. I have to work for everything I've had. I study a ton of film. I work hard on the practice field and in the weight room. I still have a long ways to go."

"Quenton studies really hard, " Shaw said. "He wants to be really good. He has a great foundation with his dad understanding the concepts. Quenton has the body type that could play nickel, corner or safety. In time, he may see time in all three of those places."

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